Advances in Technology Impacting How Arts Organizations Engage Audiences

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Americans for the Arts, the nation's leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, today announced the results of the National Arts Index, the annual measure of the health and vitality of the arts industries in the United States. The 2012 Index reveals that the arts industry began to recover from the effects of the Great Recession in 2010.

According to the Index, the vitality of the arts industry is starting to trend upward after reaching an all-time low in 2009. In 2010, the Index rose slightly to 96.7 from 96.3 in 2009. What's more, half of the 83 indicators used to tabulate the Index score increased in 2010, which is equal to pre-recession levels in 2007. In 2008 only one-third of the indicators were up, and in 2009 just one-quarter increased.

In addition, arts attendance rebounded in 2010, increasing for the first time since 2003. About one-third (32 percent) of the adult population attended a performing arts event in 2010, up from 28 percent in 2009, and 13 percent visited an art museum, up slightly from 12 percent in 2009. And several counties, such as San Francisco, New York (NY), and Arlington (VA) boast shares of more than 45 percent of the adult population attending a museum in the previous year.

Despite the turnaround, the Index shows that the arts industry still faces some critical financial challenges. In 2010, 43 percent of nonprofit arts organizations had an operating deficit, which is down from 2009 (45 percent) but not from 2008 (41 percent) and 2007 (36 percent). And since 2002, consumer spending on the arts—a discretionary expenditure—has remained in the $150 billion range; however, the arts' share of consumer discretionary spending has slipped from 1.88 percent in 2002 to 1.45 percent in 2010.

Philanthropic giving to the arts remains challenged. While the amount of money given to the arts has increased over the past decade to $13.28 billion in 2010, the sector struggles to maintain its philanthropic market share—dropping from 4.9 percent in 2001 to 4.5 percent in 2010. If the arts sector merely maintained its 4.9 percent share in 2010, it would have received $14.3 billion in contributions—a $1 billion difference. 

"Increased public interest in the arts combined with the nation's emergence from the Great Recession set the arts industry on a positive trajectory in 2010," said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. "But before the sector can make a full recovery, it is essential it find new and innovative ways to generate additional funding to compensate for the shortfalls sustained during the past few years. And it is in our country's best interest to do so. Not only do the arts play an integral role in defining our national identity, but they also are a vital component in building strong economies and healthy communities."

Technology Effecting Audience Engagement

According to the Index, advances in technology have drastically changed the way Americans consume art. For example, nearly half of the nation's CD and record stores have disappeared since 2003, while online downloads of music singles, have grown seven-fold to more than one billion units annually. In 2009, digital formats comprised 41 percent of total music sales in the U.S., up from 34 percent in 2008, and 25 percent in 2007.

In addition, many nonprofit arts organizations are using technology to broaden their audience base. Arts Memphis, for example, recognized that consumers are increasingly making their plans at the last minute. As a result, they developed an online App for the iPhone, which provides free and instant access to the city's arts calendar. In addition, the Metropolitan Opera simulcasts 12 operas to 1,600 theaters in 54 countries—a program that sold an additional 3 million tickets last year alone. Also, the Washington National Opera's annual simulcast at the Washington Nationals' baseball stadium continues to draw crowds, attracting 23,000 people in 2011.

"To survive in this market, it is essential for arts organizations to find innovative ways to engage audiences," says said Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and one of the Index's advisors. "By keeping pace with and making use of the latest technological advances and catering to changing consumer spending habits, arts organizations will be able to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace of the 21st century."

Other Key Findings

  • America's arts industries have a growing international audience: U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) increased from $56 to $64 billion between 2009 and 2010, up 12 percent. With U.S. imports at just $23 billion, the arts achieved a $41 billion trade surplus in 2010. In addition, The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers including museum visits on their trip has grown annually since 2003 (17 to 24 percent), while the share attending concerts and theater performances increased five of the past seven years (13 to 17 percent since 2003).
  • Arts employment has remained strong: From 1996 to 2010, the number of working artists rose from 1.9 to 2.2 million—a 15 percent increase. In addition, the number of self-employed "artist-entrepreneur"—active as poet, painter, musician, dancer, actor, etc.—has grown from 509,000 in 2000 to 688,000 in 2009.
  • Significant growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations: In the past decade, the number of nonprofit arts organizations ballooned 49 percent—from 76,000 to 113,000 in 2010—outpacing the growth rate of the entire nonprofit sector, which grew 32 percent during the same period.
  • Arts education equity gap: Despite the evidence of decreases in K-12 arts education, the percentage of college-bound seniors with four years of arts or music grew over the past decade from 15 percent to 20 percent of all SAT test takers. Additionally, students with four years of arts or music average about 100 points better on the verbal and math portions of the SAT. The data echoes the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics' recent findings that the nation's poorest students—those who the research suggest benefit most from arts in education—may be receiving it the least.

The Kresge Foundation and Ruth Lilly Trust provided support for the development of the Index. The National Arts Index was written by Dr. Roland J. Kushner, an economist and assistant professor of business at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts.

Americans for the Arts is the leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America. With offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, it has a record of more than 50 years of service. Americans for the Arts is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in and appreciate all forms of the arts. Additional information is available at

Catherine Brandt